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Physics Teachers Are Endangered Species

Mike Vargas Science

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In a few short weeks a new school year will begin. However, what are the odds that Arizona kids will be taking upper level science and math classes. The answer is less than half the national average.

High school physics, among other advanced math and science classes, is a class quickly going extinct in Arizona schools. With only 168 certified physics teachers left in the state for our 350,000 plus high school students, the math is not in our favor. If a student is lucky enough to have a physics class, they are the exception. As students have to compete more and more for acceptance to universities, the pathways to admission are closing as access to challenging high school classes, like physics and calculus, are disappearing. Even with funding from Proposition 123, the lack of qualified educators who can teach these subjects has not been addressed. A program, in any form, is needed now to stave off the impending crisis before it’s too late.

Finding a bunch of engineering retirees is not the answer, nor is abolishing professional subject knowledge exams. Principals need to know that their teachers can teach the subject content that they have been assigned.

The fact of the matter is this; currently, it is way easier to find a biology or earth science teacher than a physics or chemistry person. So, if you are in charge of the master schedule as an administror, why take the risk of offering classes to students that may or may not have a suitable instructor come next fall. It’s a better business practice to offer the less rigorous and less math involved alternative courses and staff it with a warm body.

As people who teach these upper level subject areas leave, we are seeing a void as the result. This void is reaching singularity proportions and we need help in any form to stave off a supernova. Physics is the science of everything and the chief stem pathway to careers in STEM fields, not to mention almost every STEM pre-req. By increasing the number of physics teachers in Arizona, we can double the number of students who have access to higher level STEM coursework. Quality STEM instruction is critical for Arizona prosperity and will yield long-term tangible economic benefits. Arizona needs a capable and mathematically adept workforce and it starts with high school physics.


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My name is Mike Vargas. I am a proud recipient of the 2014 ASTA Arizona HS Science Teacher of the Year award and I am a 2016 AEF Arizona Teacher of the Year Ambassador for Excellence. I earned my undergraduate degree from Northern Arizona University where I was Vice – President of the Associated Students, a recipient of the Gold Axe, and President’s Prize awards. I am an advocate for physics first instruction and I am leading a movement to double the current number of physics teachers in Arizona in the next 5 years. I teach high school physics at Pinnacle High School in the Paradise Valley Unified School District.

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